Jatropha projects develop worldwide

By Ron Kotrba | March 09, 2009
When experimenting with new biodiesel oilseed feedstocks, researchers are aware that there should be a market for the post-crush meal in order to make the crop economics work.

For the burgeoning biodiesel feedstock Jatropha curcas, markets for the meal have been rather limited because of its toxicity.

U.K.-based D1 Oils PLC recently developed a way to detoxify the jatropha meal. The company said it's "patenting a process that expels crude biodiesel oil from jatropha seeds and at the same time purifies the seedcake (meal) left after oil extraction to produce high-protein animal feed."

D1 Oils wouldn't comment further on the process, however. "For reasons of commercial confidentiality and the patent application, we are not saying anything more at this stage than is in the (press) release," Communications Director Graham Prince told Biodiesel Magazine. In the press release, the company said its purified meal contains more digestible protein than soybean meal, and comparable energy and amino acid composition to "the best available protein sources" for animal feed.

D1 Oils is scaling up its jatropha crush and purification process in order to conduct animal feed trials this year. "Second-phase trials will include tests for palatability, digestibility, animal growth and other performance indicators," the company said. "The Scottish Agricultural College is carrying out the field trials on D1's behalf. In phase three of the project, the results of the trials will be used to complete regulatory approvals and to determine market entry strategies." D1 Oils is working with its planting business D1-BP Fuel Crops Ltd., a joint venture with BP Amoco PLC, to commercialize the meal detoxification process. It aims to license the technology by 2010, the same year it expects to release the "next generation of commercial jatropha plants." The company selected 13 jatropha materials for product placement trials underway in Africa, India and Southeast Asia and "has started multiplication processes for these selections." This year, D1 Oils will take the "best performing accessions from these trials and multiply them into seed lots for intended commercial release to farmers in 2010."

Jatropha was also the focus of a one-page article in Time magazine in early February. The story mentions Roy Beckford, a researcher with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who was on the verge of publishing results of a study that began in August 2007 with 1,500 jatropha seedlings in Lee County, Fla. The different varieties of seedlings, provided by My Dream Fuels LLC, were planted in a one-acre plot. According to Beckford, he found the optimal growing conditions for jatropha include a soil pH of 6.8 to 8, 24 inches of rainfall per year, provisions of organic nutrients, proper spacing depending on soil nutrients, and integrated pest management. He noted that flooding, specifically submergence in water for more than two days, would be one of the few things that could kill the plants, which for the most part can thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. He also said investment in mechanical jatropha harvesting is still needed.
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